A Turn in World Politics
A translation of remarkable article by Lenin from January 1917 and a shorter translation of declaration by the Petersburg committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party
This remarkable article, taken from Lenin’s Collected works (Vol 23), was first published in Sotsial-Demokrat No58, January 31 1917. While Lenin mistakenly thinks that Germany was reaching the point where it could impose a peace on Britain and its allies, he clearly recognises the rapidly maturing revolutionary situation in Europe and its connection with the ongoing war. Lenin is, quite rightly not only outspoken in his polemical attacks on pro-war socialists such as Georgi Plekhanov in Russia, Albert Thomas in Britain and Philipp Scheidemann in Germany. He also rounds on those socialist pacifists who want unity with them: ie, Karl Kautsky and Filippo Turati.
A turn in world politics
There is something of a holiday atmosphere in the pacifist camp. The virtuous bourgeois of the neutral countries are rejoicing: ‘We’ve made our little pile out of war profits and high prices; isn’t it time to stop? We can’t make more profits anyway, and the people’s patience may not last to the very end.’
Why shouldn’t they rejoice when Wilson ‘himself’ ‘paraphrases’ the pacifist declaration of the Italian Socialist Party, which only just recently passed an official and solemn resolution in Kienthal to the effect that social-pacifism is utterly unsound?
Is it surprising that in Avanti! Turati exults at Wilson’s having paraphrased their Italian ‘pseudo-socialist’ pacifist phrases? Is it surprising that, in Le Populaire,1 the French social-pacifists and Kautskyites lovingly ‘unite’ with Turati and Kautsky, who published in the German Social Democratic press five particularly foolish pacifist articles, which also, of course, ‘paraphrase’ the talk events have brought to the fore about a nice little democratic peace?
And the present talk does differ from the previous talk, in that there is some objective ground for it. This ground was created by the turn in world politics from imperialist war, which brought the peoples utter misery and the greatest betrayal of socialism by Messrs Plekhanov, Albert Thomas, Legien, Scheidemann, etc, towards an imperialist peace, which will bring the peoples the greatest deception in the form of pious phrases, semi-reforms, semi-concessions, etc.
This turn has taken place. One cannot know at the present moment - even those who direct imperialist policy, the financial kings and the crowned robbers, are not in a position to determine this exactly - when this imperialist peace will come, what changes in the course of the war will precede it, what the details of that peace will be. Nor is that important. What is important is the fact that a turn towards peace has been made; the important thing is the fundamental character of that peace. And these two circumstances have been made sufficiently clear by the preceding development of events.
In the 29 months of war, the extent of the resources of both imperialist coalitions has become sufficiently evident. All, or nearly all, possible allies of any importance among the nearest ‘neighbours’ have been drawn into the slaughter; the strength of the armies and navies has been tested and retested, measured and remeasured. Finance capital has made billions: the mountain of war debts shows the extent of the tribute the proletariat and the propertyless masses ‘must’ now pay for decades to the international bourgeoisie for having graciously permitted them to kill off millions of their fellow wage-slaves in a war for the division of imperialist booty.
It is probably impossible, in the present war, to skin the oxen of wage-labour any more than has been done already - this is one of the profound economic reasons for the turn we now observe in world politics. It is impossible, because all resources in general are becoming exhausted. The American multimillionaires and their younger brethren in Holland, Switzerland, Denmark and other neutral countries are beginning to notice that the gold mine is giving out. That is behind the growth of neutral pacifism, and not noble humanitarian sentiments, as the naive, wretched and ridiculous Turati, Kautsky and co think.
Added to this is the growing discontent and anger among the masses. In our last issue we quoted the evidence of Guchkov and Helfferich,2 showing that both dread revolution. Is it not about time to stop the first imperialist slaughter?
The objective conditions compelling cessation of the war are thus supplemented by the influence of the class instinct and class interests of the profit-glutted bourgeoisie.
The political turn based on this economic turn follows two main lines: victorious Germany is driving a wedge between her main enemy, England, and England’s allies. She is able to do this because it is these allies and not England who have sustained (and may yet sustain) the heaviest blows, and also because German imperialism, having amassed a considerable amount of loot, is in a position to make minor concessions to England’s allies.
It is possible that a separate peace between Germany and Russia has been concluded after all. Only the form of the political pact between those two freebooters may have been changed. The tsar may have told Wilhelm, ‘If I openly sign a separate peace, then tomorrow, you, my august partner, may have to deal with a government of Milyukov and Guchkov, if not of Milyukov and Kerensky. For the revolution is growing, and I cannot answer for the army, whose generals are in correspondence with Guchkov and whose officers are mainly yesterday’s high-school boys. Is there any point in my risking my throne and your losing a good partner?’
‘Of course not,’ Wilhelm must have replied, if such a suggestion was put to him, directly or indirectly. ‘Indeed, why should we conclude an open separate peace, or any written peace treaty? Can’t we achieve the same results by other, more subtle means? I will openly appeal to all humanity, offering to bestow upon it the blessings of peace. At the same time I will drop a quiet hint to the French, to let them know that I am prepared to give back all, or nearly all, of France and Belgium in return for a ‘fair’ share of their African colonies. I will let the Italians know that they can count on scraps of Austria’s Italian lands and, in addition, on a few scraps in the Balkans. And I can bring these proposals to the knowledge of the peoples: will the English be able to retain their west European allies after that? You and I will then divide Romania, Galicia, Armenia. As for Constantinople, my august brother, you stand as much chance of seeing it as of seeing your own ears! And Poland too, my august brother - you stand as much chance of seeing it as of seeing your own ears!’
Whether or not such a conversation actually took place it is impossible to say. Nor does it matter very much. What does matter is that events have taken precisely this turn. If the arguments of the German diplomats were unable to convince the tsar, the ‘arguments’ of Mackensen’s army in Romania must have been more convincing.
The plan to divide Romania between Russia and the ‘Quadruple Alliance’ (ie, Germany’s allies, Austria and Bulgaria) is already being openly discussed in the German imperialist press! Loquacious Hervé is already blurting out: It will be impossible to compel the people to fight any longer if they learn that we can get back Belgium and France immediately. The pacifist simpletons of the neutral bourgeoisie have already been put ‘into action’: Wilhelm has loosened their tongues! And the pacifist ... wiseacres among the socialists - Turati in Italy, Kautsky in Germany, etc, etc - are exerting all their humanitarianism, their love of humanity, their celestial virtue (and their high intellect) to embellish the coming imperialist peace!
In general, how well things are arranged in this best of all possible worlds! We, the financial kings and crowned robbers, got ourselves entangled in the politics of imperialist plunder; we had to fight. Well, what of it? We are making as good a thing out of war as we make out of peace; a much better thing, in fact! And we have lackeys in plenty - all the Plekhanovs, Albert Thomases, Legiens, Scheidemanns and co - to proclaim ours a “liberation” war! The time is coming to conclude an imperialist peace? Well, suppose it is? There are the war debts. Aren’t they obligations guaranteeing our sacred right to exact a hundredfold tribute from the peoples? And aren’t there simpletons to glorify this imperialist peace, to fool the peoples by sentimental speeches? We have them in plenty - Turati, Kautsky and the other ‘leaders’ of world socialism.
The tragicomedy of Turati’s and Kautsky’s utterances is precisely that they do not understand the real objective, political role they are playing: the role of parsons to console the people instead of rousing them to revolution, the role of bourgeois advocates, who by means of flamboyant phrases about good things in general, and a democratic peace in particular, obscure, cover up, embellish and cloak the hideous nakedness of an imperialist peace that trades in nations and carves up countries.
What unites the social-chauvinists (the Plekhanovs and Scheidemanns) and the social-pacifists (Turati and Kautsky) in principle is that objectively both are servants of imperialism. The former serve it by glorifying the imperialist war, describing it as a war for “defence of the fatherland”; the latter serve the same imperialism by glorifying, with their talk of a democratic peace, the imperialist peace that is maturing and being prepared.
The imperialist bourgeoisie needs lackeys of both species and varieties: the Plekhanovs, to encourage the continuation of the slaughter by shouting ‘Down with the conquerors’; the Kautskys, to console and placate the embittered masses by sweet songs of peace.
Hence the general amalgamation of the social-chauvinists of all countries with the social-pacifists - the general “conspiracy against socialism” referred to in the manifesto of the Berne International Socialist Committee,3 the ‘general amnesty’ to which we have more than once referred - will not be an accident, but an expression of the unity on principle of both these trends of world pseudo-‘socialism’. It is no accident that Plekhanov, while shouting frantically about the “treachery” of the Scheidemanns, hints at peace and unity with those gentry when the time is ripe for it.
The reader may argue, can we forget that an imperialist peace is ‘after all better’ than imperialist war? That, if not the whole, then at least ‘parts’ of the democratic peace programme might possibly be achieved? That an independent Poland is better than a Russian Poland? That integration in Italy of Austrian-held Italian territory is a step forward?
But these are exactly the arguments defenders of Turati and Kautsky use as a cover, failing to see that this transforms them from revolutionary Marxists into ordinary bourgeois reformists.
Can anyone in his right mind deny that Bismarck Germany and her social laws are ‘better’ than pre-1848 Germany? That the Stolypin reforms4 are ‘better’ than pre-1905 Russia? Did the German Social Democrats (they were still Social Democrats at that time) vote for Bismarck’s reforms on these grounds? Were Stolypin’s reforms extolled, or even supported, by the Russian Social Democrats, except, of course, for Messrs Potresov, Maslov and co, from whom even Martov, a member of their own party, now turns away with contempt?
History does not stand still even in times of counterrevolution. History has been advancing even during the imperialist slaughter of 1914-16, which is a continuation of the imperialist policies of preceding decades. World capitalism, which in the 60s and 70s of the last century was an advanced and progressive force of free competition, and which at the beginning of the 20th century grew into monopoly capitalism - ie, imperialism - took a big step forward during the war: not only towards greater concentration of finance capital, but also towards transformation into state capitalism. The force of national cohesion, the significance of national sympathies, were revealed in this war, for example, by the conduct of the Irish in one imperialist coalition, and of the Czechs in the other. The intelligent leaders of imperialism say to themselves: Of course, we cannot achieve our aims without throttling the small nations; but there are two ways of doing that. Sometimes the more reliable and profitable way is to obtain the services of sincere and conscientious advocates of ‘fatherland defence’ in an imperialist war by creating politically independent states; ‘we’, of course, will see to it that they are financially dependent! It is more profitable (when imperialist powers are engaged in a major war) to be an ally of an independent Bulgaria than the master of a dependent Ireland! To complete what has been left undone in the realm of national reforms may sometimes internally strengthen an imperialist coalition - this is properly taken into account by, for instance, one of the most servile lackeys of German imperialism, Karl Renner, who, of course, is a staunch supporter of ‘unity’ in the Social Democratic parties in general, and of unity with Scheidemann and Kautsky in particular.
The objective course of events is having its effect and, just as the executioners of the 1848 and 1905 revolutions were, in a certain sense, their executors, so the stage-managers of the imperialist slaughter are compelled to carry out certain state-capitalist, certain national reforms. Moreover, it is necessary, by throwing out a few sops, to pacify the masses, angered by the war and the high cost of living: why not promise (and partly carry out, for it does not commit one to anything!) ‘reduction of armaments’? After all, war is a ‘branch of industry’ similar to forestry: it takes decades for trees of proper size - that is to say, for a sufficiently abundant supply of adult ‘cannon fodder’ - to grow up. During these decades, we hope, new Plekhanovs, new Scheidemanns, new sentimental conciliators like Kautsky will grow up from the depths of ‘united’ international Social Democracy.
Bourgeois reformists and pacifists are people who, as a general rule, are paid, in one form or another, to strengthen the rule of capitalism by patching it up, to lull the masses and divert them from the revolutionary struggle. When socialist ‘leaders’ like Turati and Kautsky try to convince the masses, either by direct statements (Turati ‘blurted’ one out in his notorious speech of December 17 19165) or by silent evasions (of which Kautsky is a past master) that the present imperialist war can result in a democratic peace, while the bourgeois governments remain in power and without a revolutionary insurrection against the whole network of imperialist world relations, it is our duty to declare that such propaganda is a deception of the people, that it has nothing in common with socialism, that it amounts to the embellishment of an imperialist peace.
We are for a democratic peace; and that is precisely why we do not want to lie to the peoples, as Turati and Kautsky do - of course, with the best intentions and for the most virtuous motives! We shall tell the truth: namely, that a democratic peace is impossible unless the revolutionary proletariat of England, France, Germany and Russia overthrows the bourgeois governments. We think it would be the height of absurdity for revolutionary Social Democrats to refrain from fighting for reforms in general, including ‘constitutional reform’. But, at the present moment, Europe is going through a period in which it is more than ever necessary to bear in mind the truth that reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle; for the task of the day - not because we want it, not because of anybody’s plans, but because of the objective course of events - is to solve the great historical problems by means of direct mass violence, which will create new foundations, and not by means of agreements on the basis of the old, decaying and moribund.
It is precisely at the present time, when the ruling bourgeoisie is preparing peacefully to disarm millions of proletarians and to transfer them safely - under cover of a plausible ideology, and sprinkling them with the holy water of sentimental pacifist phrases! - from the filthy, stinking, fetid trenches, where they were engaged in slaughter, to the penal servitude of the capitalist factories, where by their ‘honest toil’ they must repay the hundreds of millions of national debt, it is precisely at this time that the slogan, which our party issued to the people in the autumn of 1914 - viz, transform the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism - acquires still greater significance than it had at the beginning of the war. Karl Liebknecht, now sentenced to hard labour, adopted that slogan when he said from the Reichstag tribune: “Turn your weapons against your class enemies within the country!” The extent to which present-day society has matured for the transition to socialism has been demonstrated by this war, in which the exertion of national effort called for the direction of the economic life of over 50 million people from a single centre. If this is possible under the leadership of a handful of Junker aristocrats in the interests of a handful of financial magnates, it is certainly no less possible under the leadership of class-conscious workers in the interests of nine-tenths of the population, exhausted by starvation and war.
But to lead the masses, the class-conscious workers must understand the litter of corruption of such socialist leaders as Turati, Kautsky and co. These gentlemen imagine they are revolutionary Social Democrats, and they are very indignant when they are told that their place is in the party of Messrs Bissolati, Scheidemann, Legien and co. But Turati and Kautsky wholly fail to realise that only a revolution of the masses can solve the great problems of the day. They have not a grain of faith in the revolution, they do not pay the slightest attention to, or display the slightest interest in, the way it is maturing in the minds and moods of the masses precisely in connection with the war. Their attention is entirely absorbed in reforms, in pacts between sections of the ruling classes; it is to them that they address themselves, it is them they seek to ‘persuade’, it is to them they wish to adapt the labour movement.
But the whole thing now is to get the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat to direct its thoughts to, and muster its forces for, a revolutionary struggle to overthrow their governments. Revolutions such as Turati and Kautsky are ‘prepared’ to accept - ie, revolutions for which the date and the chances of success can be set in advance - never happen. The revolutionary situation in Europe is a fact. The extreme discontent, the unrest and anger of the masses are facts. It is on strengthening this torrent that revolutionary Social Democrats must concentrate all their efforts. Upon the strength of the revolutionary movement, in the event of its not being entirely successful, will depend what portion of the ‘promised’ reforms will be realised in practice, and what use they will be for the further struggle of the working class. Upon the strength of the revolutionary movement, in the event of its being entirely successful, will depend the victory of socialism in Europe and the achievement not of an imperialist armistice in Germany’s struggle against Russia and England, or in Russia’s and Germany’s struggle against England, or the United States’ struggle against Germany and England, etc, but of a really lasting and really democratic peace l
1. Le Populaire - a French centrist newspaper published in Limoges from 1916 and in Paris from July 1917. It was edited in 1916 by Jean Longuet, and contributors included Pierre Brizon, Adrien Pressemane, Jean-Pierre Raffin-Dugens, Boris Souvarine and Paul Faura. It became the official organ of the French Socialist Party in 1921; at present is controlled by the party’s right wing.
2. Reference is to AI Guchkov’s letter of August 15 (29) 1916 to general MV Alexeyev, chief of staff to the supreme commander of the Russian forces, published in No57 of Sotsial-Demokrat, and excerpts from a Reichstag speech by interior minister Helfferich in reply to an opposition question about the wholesale arrests of Social Democrats.
The Guchkov letter was sent to Sotsial-Demokrat from Russia along with other materials. In a letter to Inessa Armand dated December 5 (18) 1916, Lenin wrote: “Received another letter from St Petersburg today. Of late they have been writing frequently. In addition to the Guchkov letter, which is being published in No57 of the central organ ... we have also received letters by Lvov and Chelnokov on the same subject [resentment against the traitors who are negotiating a separate peace], etc.”
The Guchkov letter was expressive of the fear inspired in the Russian bourgeoisie by the maturing revolution and of its dissatisfaction with the government for its inability to prevent revolution. The substance of Helfferich’s speech was that it was better to arrest the leaders of the revolution than to allow the revolution to break out.
3. This refers to the appeal, ‘To affiliated parties and groups’, adopted at an enlarged meeting of the International Socialist Committee in February 1916. It sharply criticised the social-chauvinists and the social-chauvinist position of the International Socialist Bureau, denouncing its attempts to re-establish the Second International through “mutual amnesty” of socialists as a “plot against socialism”. Socialists, the appeal said, should refuse to vote for war credits, should organise strikes, demonstrations, fraternisation at the front and other revolutionary actions against the imperialist war. The appeal was published in the International Socialist Committee Bulletin of February 29 (No3) and in Sotsial-Demokrat of March 25 1916 (No52).
4. On November 9 (22) 1906, the tsarist government issued a decree authorising the withdrawal of peasants from the commune and making their plots their personal property. Amended by the Duma and Council of State, the decree came into force on June 14 1910. Known as the Stolypin law, after prime minister PA Stolypin, it enabled the peasant to withdraw from the commune, take over his land as personal property and sell it if he so chose. The commune was under obligation to allot him land in one place. The Stolypin reform accelerated the development of capitalism in agriculture and differentiation of the peasantry, and aggravated the class struggle in the rural areas.
5. Reference is to a speech by F Turati in the Italian parliament on December 17 1916, in which he sought to justify the imperialist war. The speech appeared the next day in Avanti! (No345), and comment in the socialist press of various countries was summarised in Volksrecht (December 23, No301) under the heading “Eine Rede Turatis über das Friedensangebot” (‘Turati speech on peace proposals’).
For a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants
‘1917: the view from the streets’ - leaflets of the Russian Revolution, No4
One hundred years ago this week, in February 1917, the Bolshevik Petersburg committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party issued the following proclamation as a response to Menshevik appeals to workers to come out in support of the Duma (parliament) on the day of its convocation.1
The Bolshevik committee warned workers not to trust attempts to ally them with Duma liberals, calling instead for a one-day strike on February 23 (February 10) to commemorate the second anniversary of the trial of the Bolshevik deputies to the State Duma. The Petersburg committee had forgotten, however, that many factories would be closed on that date, because it fell during a Russian religious holiday.
The Russian bureau of the Bolshevik central committee, led by Alexander Shlyapnikov, urged the Petersburg committee to transfer the date of the strike to February 26 (February 13), and to consider extending the action to disrupt and take control of the initiative planned by the Worker Group of the Central War Industry Committee for February 27 (February 14). The Petersburg committee, however, proceeded with its original plan, which failed due to the holiday. Nor did any workers respond to the Russian bureau’s call for a February 26 (February 13) strike.
The February revolution would begin around International Women’s Day on March 8 (February 23).
This series is edited by John Riddell and the leaflets have been translated and annotated by Barbara Allen.
1. See ‘Call for provisional government to bring freedom and peace’ Weekly Worker February 9.
2. Russian Social Democratic Workers Party
Proletarians of the entire world, unite!
The ruling classes have tightened the noose which they hung around the neck of the peoples of Europe. Millions of human lives have perished. The best and healthiest young forces of the people have been maimed or killed. Millions more suffer in captivity. Work comes to a halt and there is hunger.
As many as 15 million people from all combatant countries have lost their lives during the two years of slaughter, which have increased the profits of those with power in this world. What an unprecedented crime! Shame on those who undertook this mass extermination of the finest forces of the people! We, the worker vanguard and oppressed democratic forces, who spill our blood for a cause alien to us, face a great and difficult duty - to put an end to this crime!
And what do they do?
During the past two and a half years, have we heard even a weak voice of reason from the ruling classes, who dispose over the fate of the peoples whom they oppress? Now is the second anniversary of the trial of the representatives of the Russian working class in the State Duma. Since the very beginning of the war, the State Duma has cried out at its sessions for Russia’s economy to flourish. Yet behind the walls of the Tauride Palace, the Duma ruins the economy by putting it at the mercy of the wolfish appetites of gentry landowners, capitalist factory owners and bankers.
After our deputies were expelled from the State Duma, quickly tried and banished to remote, cold Siberia, the gentry landowners and capitalists rubbed their hands in satisfaction that they might speak more freely in the State Duma. But for two years, the State Duma has said nothing regarding the violation of its rights. It will also be silent on the second anniversary of the deputies’ exile. On the other hand, it will shout out and its agents will hustle about to seek among the working class, which it has decapitated, a sympathetic response to the servile speeches of ‘comradely’ deputies.
And they can find some chauvinist groups of workers, who have been blinded by the tempest of war and who will carry Duma liberals’ lustful cravings into the workers’ midst. The most capricious rumours about the State Duma’s intentions are circulating among workers now, on the eve of the proposed convocation of the State Duma on February 14. It is easy to see that the State Duma is not prepared to do anything new. But Duma liberals once more are not averse to making menacing gestures, while protected by a wall of workers who have risen.
In the factories, workers heard the call to support the State Duma and even to push it to take a resolute step by presenting demands at the doors of the Tauride Palace. This summons is not only useless, but also traitorous. Going in supplication to the palaces of tsars and ruling classes will dearly cost the credulous people who hoped to receive something from the inhabitants of these palaces.
Liberals and liberal worker politicians, when they do not have sufficient gunpowder, gladly dress up in front of the people as resolute warriors for the people’s cause. But they conceal their actual intentions. Comrades, they come running to offer assistance, so that you would allow them to surrender the country more fully to further military plunder and to endlessly wage war ‘to the end’. They do not speak about this directly to us, but it is their fondest dream.
We know what the fine words of liberals mean when they shout their dissatisfaction with the current government, yet secretly apportion among themselves future ministerial seats. From their tongues slip resolute phrases about taking power or about a “provisional government”, depending on the organised people for support, yet they say not a word about war. We fully understand that only the mighty blow of democracy will put a stop to the harassment of the people and to their ordeal.
We should tell them: All our efforts are directed against you and the war that you started. We are against the tsarist monarchy that you love so much because the monarch’s sceptre conceals your appetites and your dark deeds. We are against the tsarist government. You say you want to struggle against it, but you are afraid of its defeat, because only the tsarist government allows you to toy with the people.
We are for a democratic republic, which will put power into the hands of the people. We are for a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants. It will be able to convene a National Constituent Assembly, based on universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. We are against the chauvinist criminal greed of each nation’s capitalists, who divide up the world and inflict deep wounds upon it. We are for the international solidarity of workers, which will bring peace and happiness to the people.
On February 10, the anniversary of the day when the tsarist court struck a blow against our deputies, we will send them our fraternal greeting, for they gave their utmost in struggle for our slogans. We demand the immediate return of our deputies and we will mark this anniversary by holding a one-day strike. This will be a sign of our readiness to give our lives in struggle for the demands that our exiled deputies proclaimed openly.
Down with tsarist monarchy! War on war! Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government! Long live the National Constituent Assembly! Long live the democratic republic! Long live international socialism!
Petersburg committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party
Translated from AG Shlyapnikov Semnadtsatyi god Vol 1, 1923, pp303-06.
Previous leaflets in this series are available at https://johnriddell.wordpress.com.